Image: Shirtwaist factory workers preparing for a strike, from the National Women’s History Museum
On March 25, 1911, 146 garment workers working in New York City – most of them young, immigrant women – lost their lives in a deadly fire. The rights of the workers were already undervalued in favour of increased production, and the overcrowded factory, unsanitary conditions and locked exits created a literal and violent death trap. The incident created an uproar concerning the dismal conditions under which these women were forced to work, and raised issues concerning labour and union rights still relevant today.
Cornell University: The Triangle Factory Fire
For those of you wishing to learn the basic facts concerning the fire, this website is an archive containing firsthand testimonials, newspaper articles, resources for further reading, and a detailed timeline of events, from the garment industry strikes of 1909 to the legal aftermath and protests.
The New York Times Tag: Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire
The Times has been building an excellent database of images, videos, and modern perspectives on lessons learned in the fire’s aftermath – and how far we have to go (see also Nancy Goldstein’s writing at the American Prospect).
American Experience: Triangle Fire
PBS has an hour long documentary that you can view in its entirety on their website. For those of you with access to HBO, they will be airing a documentary of their own several times within the next few weeks.
The Price of Fashion (1910)
While you are on the PBS website, be sure to check out this gallery of images taken in the years surrounding the fire, chronicling the working conditions that went into constructing the clothing seen in fashion magazines.
I am not obsessed with Sex and the City. I only mention this because it occurs to me I might have talked about SATC in another post and I want to be clear. (As a woman, I would rather distance myself from those of our tribe who have somehow latched onto that HBO phenomenon as a step-by-step guide to modern womanhood. As far as I’m concerned, it’s just a chic-er version of Trekkie-ism.) That said, let’s all just admit right now that it was, whatever the over-saturated aftermath, a piece of pop-culture that did, in some way, shift public consciousness about fashion and femininity, and so does not bear dismissal (at least not outright).
In the last months there has been the expected amount of buzz about the latest SATC movie, due for release in May of 2010. Internet gossip sites are rife with photos of SJP et al, on location and dressed to impress. Sort of.
I remember the first time I watched SATC. It was the late 90s and, fashion-wise, I was feeling kind of bored. The pierced-and-dyed grunge aesthetic had become mainstream enough to be adopted by elementary-school secretaries, runway fashion was dominated by nudity (with strappy shoes) which was hard to pull off during the long Canadian winters, and the ravers had finally lost their minds completely. I wanted something else – more creative, less presciptive, intelligent, inspiring. Enter Pat Field. Her styling decisions in those early years were everything I’d been missing. The startling (for TV) mix of current trend and vintage quirk felt unique and fearless (the latter was amusingly illustrated by frequent fashion disasters that somehow came off as charming, which was a revelation to me). I found myself combing Goodwills and Salvation Armies, armed with ideas and new sense of adventure. It was really good fashion – and it felt totally accessible. I still think the first four seasons especially are some of the best (and wonderfully worst) fashion the small screen has seen since Mary Tyler Moore.